Lulu catches on at UB

App allows females to anonymously rate males on campus

The Spectrum

Last month, Shelby Lebo, a junior communication major, won $250. The competition, she said, was far from ordinary. She was asked to rate and review her male friends using an iPhone app called Lulu.

The contest was made up of 11 agents, all competing to rate the most males. With a goal of a minimum of 300 reviews, Lebo quickly began rating all of the males she knew on Facebook. As she made her way through all of her Facebook friends, she began rating males at random that had been selected for her through her school network and location.

The rating process consisted of selecting answers to multiple-choice questions related to the male's appearance, humor, manners, sex, first kiss, ambition and commitment. Then, users assigned hashtags to each male, all predetermined by Lulu.

The first set of hashtags were the male's "best" characteristics, such as, "#CanTalkToMyDad," and "#SexualPanther." The second set of hashtags consisted of the male's "worst" characteristics, such as, "#GoneByMorning," "#OwnsCrocs," "#BeerFirstClassSecond," "#BurnsCornflakes" and more.

"It took me less than a minute to complete a rating," Lebo said. "The more I did, the quicker the next one came. Before I knew it, I had completed hundreds of ratings."

Lulu, a girls-only app created to rate exes and crushes anonymously, launched in February 2013 and now has over 1 million users. Reviews allow girls to note whether they are a crush, an ex, a friend, hooked up, are currently in a relationship or a relative. The questions are then formulated based on the reviewer's selection, and the reviewer is directed through several pages of multiple-choice questions.

At UB, approximately 65 percent of the men on campus have been reviewed, according to Deborah Singer, head of marketing for Lulu. Lebo believes she and her fellow competitors played a big role in its popularity at UB.

Lebo completed over 1,000 reviews for the competition, winning the prize money. Although she was announced as the winner, the competition didn't stop there.

The second stage of the competition had the agents become "buzz builders," where they earned points by spreading the word about Lulu. Sharing Lulu videos through Facebook and Twitter, getting friends to download the app and reviewing even more males was each worth a specific number of points. The first to reach 300 points completed the second stage, but whoever got the most points by the end of the week was announced the winner.

Taylor Wolf, a sophomore communication major, won the $300 grand prize.

"I couldn't believe I won," Wolf said. "At first, I was just playing around with the app, rating boys and laughing with my friends about it. Before I knew it, I was rating and sharing left and right and suddenly I was announced the winner."

Lulu ranks 53rd out of 400 free iPhone apps in the social networking category, according to Lulu co-founder and CEO Alexandra Chong said the app's mission is to "tap into the power of girl talk."

While eating lunch with some friends on Valentine's Day three years ago, Chong realized the importance of creating a safe environment where girls can help each other make smarter dating decisions - and that's where the idea for the app began. Chong and co-founder Allison Schwartz run Lulu out of their New York and London offices.

Though the app is completely anonymous and is only accessible for females, males have been starting to catch onto it.

"Walking through the library, you can hear boys asking girls, 'Can you give me a good rating on Lulu?'" Lebo said. "I thought guys would hate the app because they have absolutely no say in what girls rate them, but they actually like it."

Wolf agreed that many of her male friends, too, think the app is fun.

"At first, my guy friends were nervous that girls would start trash-talking them," Wolf said. "But once they realized how it works and what it's for, they started to really get into it."

Half a million men have sent requests to have themselves reviewed by girls on Lulu, according to Chong and Schwartz.

In an interview with The Daily Beast, Chong said the founders make sure to be mindful and cautious that the app can be slightly hurtful to males.

"It's more of a positive place than a negative place," Chong said. "Once guys understand it better, they see it as a secret weapon to engage and use to their advantage."

She said that although people who don't understand how Lulu works might find the app to be sexist, they ensure that they are using technology to harness a real-world experience. Guys are also able to remove themselves from Lulu if they want to.

"[Lulu] is weird," said Joey Wilner, a junior business major. "But I understand why girls would take part in something like that. I mean, it benefits me. I have an 8.2, so these girls are promoting me to everyone they know and I don't even have to do a thing."

The app was meticulously designed to keep females from being too mean toward the males they are reviewing. At every step along the reviewing process, Lulu leaves no room for girls to provide their own words or bash a past relationship. Each question is predesigned by Lulu, as are the answer choices.

The Huffington Post refers to Lulu as an app that "Lets Women Review Men like Restaurants."

Lulu's FAQ section explains why the founders believe the app is useful.

"If you meet a guy at a party and hit it off, admit it: you're going to Facebook and Google him when you get home. Lulu is the place to do your research. Except we're not going to bore you with whether he's registered to vote. No way. Lulu tells you the stuff you want to know: is he a heartbreaker or your future husband? Lulu is the fastest way you can find out if he has a good track record with the ladies."

The company holds marketing competitions, like the one Lebo and Wolf took part in, on college campuses to help build buzz among students.

Though the winners of each stage go home with some prize money, Lulu makes sure the other participants get something out of it as well - internship experience. Those who rated at least 300 males in the first stage and gained at least 300 points in the second stage were rewarded with the opportunity to write that they interned for Lulu on their resumes.

"It was easy money, easy internship credit and it was fun," Lebo said.

After participating in the competition, Lebo and Wolf said they both noticed a lot more students using the app on campus.